UN-Finanzen: Zeit für multilaterale Führung

In der Not eine Tugend demonstrieren: Die von Deutschland gegründete Allianz für Multilateralismus kann jetzt ihre Bedeutung zeigen, indem sie eine schnelle Übergangsfinanzierung des Haushalts der Vereinten Nationen organisiert – und mitfinanziert.

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Diesen Beitrag schrieb ich zusammen mit Carina Böttcher. Er erschien am 13. Oktober 2019 im Tagesspiegel.

António Guterres, der UN-Generalsekretär, warnte am Dienstag vor der tiefsten Finanzkrise der Organisation in diesem Jahrzehnt. Zu viele Mitgliedstaaten, besonders die USA, sind im Verzug mit ihren Mitgliedsbeiträgen. Damit gefährden sie die Arbeit der UN für Frieden, Entwicklung und Menschenrechte. Deutschland sollte seine Partner zur besseren Zahlungsmoral motivieren und den Druck auf säumige Staaten anführen.

US-Präsident Donald Trump hat seine Abneigung gegenüber den UN oft betont. Im September warnte er, die Souveränität vieler Staaten sei bedroht. Seine Regierung werde sich der UN-Bürokratie nicht unterwerfen. So wundert es nicht, dass die USA als größter Beitragszahler ihre Beiträge von mehr als 670 Millionen US-Dollar bisher nicht überwiesen haben. Traditionell gehören die USA zu den vielen Ländern, die ihre Beiträge erst zum Ende des UN-Haushaltsjahrs in voller Höhe begleichen. Diese Praxis ist für die UN höchst problematisch. In diesem Jahr wird die Krise dadurch verschärft, dass die US-Administration nicht bereits erste Raten gezahlt hat, sondern den kompletten Beitrag schuldig ist – wie auch andere Staaten. Die Finanzkrise der UN ist auch Ausdruck der viel beschworenen Krise des Multilateralismus. Nationalistische Regierungen sind nicht mehr bereit, die UN politisch und mit ausreichend Geld zu unterstützen. Nicht zufällig steht Brasilien mit seinem rechtsextremen Präsidenten Jair Bolsonaro mit einer offenen Rechnung von 82 Millionen US-Dollar an zweiter Stelle der säumigen Zahler. Auch Saudi-Arabien, Venezuela und Iran, alle auf den vorderen Rängen auf der Liste, haben ein angespanntes Verhältnis zur UN.

Wenn jeder nur an sich selbst denkt… 

Dabei nützen die UN allen Ländern. 2019 mobilisierten und koordinierten sie humanitäre Hilfe im Wert von 15 Milliarden US-Dollar, die 133 Millionen Menschen in Not erreichte. In 165 Ländern sind die UN präsent, um die nachhaltigen Entwicklungsziele voranzutreiben. Politische UN-Missionen vermitteln in Friedensprozessen in Afghanistan, Kolumbien oder Libyen. Schließlich bieten die UN das wichtigste Forum, in dem sich verfeindete Staaten und Oppositionelle auf neutralem Boden treffen können. Diese Arbeit steht auf dem Spiel, wenn die Trumps und Bolsonaros dieser Welt – und nicht nur sie – nicht zahlen. Wenn jeder nur an sich selbst denkt, bleibt nichts mehr für die großen gemeinsamen Aufgaben übrig. Die Menschen in Krisenregionen verdienen globale Aufmerksamkeit und Unterstützung. Selbst nationalistische Staatenlenker müssen erkennen, dass mehr als 70 Millionen Geflüchtete weltweit gleichsam Ausdruck und Beschleuniger sicherheitspolitischer Herausforderungen sind.

In der gleichen Woche, in der Trump vor den Gefahren globaler Bürokratien warnte, setzte Deutschland einen vielbeachteten Kontrapunkt. Zusammen mit Frankreich gründete es die Allianz für Multilateralismus. Mehr als 60 Staaten kamen dazu zusammen. Nun muss die Allianz beweisen, dass sie es mit der internationalen Zusammenarbeit ernst meint. Die Partner sollten sich für eine schnelle Übergangsfinanzierung des UN-Haushalts einsetzen. Als Initiator des Netzwerks fällt die Führungsrolle an den deutschen Außenminister Heiko Maas. Anfangen könnte er bei seinen Partnern für den Multilateralismus: Südkorea, ein Mitglied der Allianz, schuldet den UN noch rund 63 Millionen US-Dollar für das laufende Jahr. Das EU-Mitglied Rumänien steht ebenfalls noch in der Kreide. Was sind Bekenntnisse zum multilateralen Engagement der Europäischen Union wert, wenn noch nicht mal alle ihre Mitgliedstaaten pünktlich ihre Beiträge an die UN überweisen?

Deutschland könnte in Vorleistung gehen

Deutschland ist der viertgrößte Beitragszahler für den regulären Haushalt und für die Friedensmissionen, sowie der zweitgrößte Geber für das Entwicklungssystem. Daher hat es wenig Interesse daran, die Berechnung der Beiträge zu verändern, die sich an der Wirtschaftsleistung jedes Landes bemisst. Sofern die Zahlungsmoral einiger finanzstarker Mitgliedstaaten miserabel bleibt, wird sich die Allianz aber fragen müssen, wie man die UN weniger abhängig von wenigen Staaten machen kann. Kurzfristig könnte die Allianz bereits mit einem gemeinsamen Aufruf und politischem Druck für eine bessere Zahlungsmoral aller Mitgliedsstaaten eintreten.

Um die Finanzkrise abzuwenden könnte sich die Bundesregierung für einen Übergangsmechanismus einsetzen. Sie könnte beispielsweise anbieten, zusammen mit anderen Staaten in Vorleistung zu gehen, also einmalig einen Teil ihrer Beiträge für das kommende Jahr vorzuziehen. Damit das Licht in New York nicht ausgeht.

Deutschland sollte jedoch noch weiter gehen. In der Allianz für Multilateralismus könnte es für freiwillige Zusagen werben, Beiträge pünktlich und vollständig zu begleichen. Dazu muss Deutschland sich auch an die eigene Nase fassen und in Zukunft wie Kanada, Indien oder die Niederlande jedes Jahr seinen Beitrag im Januar überweisen. Nur wer auf diese „Ehrenliste“ kommt, darf als Führungsmacht für den Multilateralismus gelten. Deutschland muss zeigen, ob es seine Versprechen ernst meint.

Präventive Außenpolitik braucht überprüfbare Strategien

In drei neuen Strategiedokumenten zur Krisenprävention formuliert die Bundesregierung hohe konzeptionelle Ansprüche an ihre Arbeit. Als Schwerpunkte sollen Sicherheitssektorreform, Rechtsstaatsförderung und Vergangenheitsarbeit unterstützt werden. Um diese Konzepte auch wirkungsvoll umsetzen zu können, müssen die Aktionspläne aber konkrete Maßnahmen enthalten. Auslandsvertretungen in fragilen Staaten kommt dabei eine besondere Bedeutung zu.

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena visiting the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin in 2016. Germany has supported the transitional justice process in Sri Lanka.

Dieser Beitrag erschien als DGAP Standpunkt am 30.September 2019.

In seiner Rede vor der UN-Generalversammlung Ende September versprach Außenminister Heiko Maas eine „nachhaltige Außenpolitik“. Krisenprävention nehme darin eine besondere Stellung ein, sagte er. Am gleichen Tag stellte die Bundesregierung drei neue Konzepte vor, die zeigen sollen, wie präventives Engagement aussehen kann. Bei der ersten Jahrestagung des Beirats zivile Krisenprävention in Berlin stießen diese auf ein weitgehend positives Echo. Den Strategien sollten jedoch Aktionspläne mit konkreten Zielen für Personal, Ausstattung und Koordinationsmechanismen folgen.

Seit 2014 hat die Bundesregierung ihr Engagement in fragilen Staaten deutlich gesteigert. Allein die Projektmittel des Auswärtigen Amts für Krisenprävention, Stabilisierung und Friedensförderung haben sich seitdem etwa vervierfacht – auf 396 Millionen Euro im aktuellen Haushalt. 2017 verabschiedete das Kabinett die Leitlinien „Krisen verhindern, Konflikte bewältigen, Frieden fördern.“ Ein Ergebnis dieser Leitlinien sind drei themenspezifische Dokumente, die ressortgemeinsam abgestimmt und von einem öffentlichen Konsultationsprozess begleitet wurden. Diese beschäftigen sich mit Sicherheitssektorreformen (SSR), Rechtstaatsförderung sowie Vergangenheitsarbeit und Versöhnung.

Diese drei Bereiche prägen gesellschaftliche Transformationsprozesse. Heike Thiele, Beauftragte der Bundesregierung für Zivile Krisenprävention und Stabilisierung im Auswärtigen Amt, nannte den Übergangsprozess im Sudan bei der Jahrestagung als aktuelles Beispiel: Die Richterbänke sind besetzt mit Leuten des alten Regimes. Armee, Polizei und Milizen müssten sich das Vertrauen der Bevölkerung erst verdienen und massive Gewaltanwendungen aus dreißig Jahren Diktatur müssten aufgearbeitet werden. Nur so könnten die Menschen in Sudan wieder anfangen, den staatlichen Institutionen zu vertrauen.

Gute Konzepte, zu wenig Strategie

In den Dokumenten sind zentrale Konzepte, Instrumente und Handlungsfelder aufgelistet. Damit wird das deutsche Verständnis für die Herausforderungen präventiver Arbeit in drei zentralen Bereichen aufgelistet. Um wirklich ihren Anspruch als Strategien zu erfüllen, muss jedoch noch jeweils klarer werden, wie sich die Arbeit der Ressorts in absehbarer Zukunft messbar ändern soll – außer einer neuen gemeinsamen Arbeitsgruppe.

Ein effektiver und bei allen Bevölkerungsgruppen legitimierter Sicherheitssektor ist Voraussetzung für langfristige Stabilität. In der SSR-Strategie erkennt die Bundesregierung an, dass es sich bei der Reform von Polizei und Militär nicht nur um technische, sondern machtpolitische Prozesse handelt. Denn die Sicherheitskräfte sind ein zentrales Instrument der Unterdrückung und Herrschaftssicherung in autokratischen Staaten. Unter ihnen gibt es zahlreiche Gegner von mehr Transparenz und Rechenschaftspflichtigkeit.

Internationale Hilfe für SSR ist stets mit dem Risiko verbunden, durch einseitige Unterstützung neue Vorbehalte zu schüren, wie auch die SSR-Strategie erwähnt. Allerdings legt die Bundesregierung nicht dar, welche genauen Mechanismen sie einsetzt, um diese Risiken zu managen. Dazu sollte auch die Überprüfung des menschenrechtlichen Hintergrunds der Teilnehmerinnen und Teilnehmer an von Deutschland finanzierten Maßnahmen zählen. Ein allgemeiner Hinweis auf konfliktsensibles Handeln reicht nicht. Die Zusammenarbeit mit nichtstaatlichen Gewaltakteuren wie Selbstverteidigungsmilizen stellt die Strategie allerdings zu Recht unter einen hohen Vorbehalt.

Die Beziehungen zwischen Staat und Gesellschaft beruhen auf Regeln. Die transparente, gleichmäßige und konsequente Einhaltung dieser Regeln berührt das Rechtsstaatsprinzip. Auch hier erkennt die Bundesregierung an, dass eine rein technische Unterstützung von Gerichten, Strafvollzug und Rechtspflege nicht ausreicht, sondern politisch flankiert werden muss. Hilfreich ist auch, dass die Strategie auch nichtstaatliche Quellen von Recht anerkennt und Bedingungen für deutsche Unterstützung von informellen, traditionellen oder religiösen Rechtssystemen nennt. Zu diesen Bedingungen zählt ihre Ausrichtung an Frauen- und Minderheitenrechten. 

Gleichwohl liest sich die Strategie wie eine Liste von Instrumenten und Handlungsfeldern, deren jeweiliges Ambitionsniveau die Bundesregierung nicht ausreichend reflektiert. So nennt sie die Zusammenarbeit mit China und Vietnam als Beispiele für Rechtsstaatsdialoge. Während einzelne Gesetzesvorhaben durch die Dialoge entschärft werden können, bleibt das von Staatsparteien kontrollierte System jedoch bestehen.

Die stärkste Reflexion findet sich in der Strategie zu Vergangenheitsarbeit und Versöhnung. Nach Krieg und Gewaltherrschaft kann schwelendes Unrecht Auslöser neuer Konflikte sein. Wahrheitskommissionen, Sondertribunale oder Entschädigungskommissionen können einen wichtigen Beitrag zur Aufarbeitung leisten. Die Strategie der Bundesregierung spricht dabei offen mögliche Spannungen zwischen Wahrheitsfindung, Strafrecht und Versöhnung als auch zwischen den Erwartungen verschiedener Opfergruppen, staatlicher Stellen und internationalen Akteuren an. 

Deutlich wird, dass die Bundesregierung auf internationalen Lehren im Bereich Vergangenheitsarbeit aufbaut. Die Strategie konzentriert sich nicht allein auf strafrechtliche Aufarbeitung, sondern betont die Bedeutung des jeweiligen Kontexts und die Beteiligung von Opfergruppen. Allerdings verwundert, dass die Arbeit von deutschen Strafverfolgungsbehörden unerwähnt bleibt, die nach dem Weltrechtsprinzip Verbrechen in Drittstaaten aufklären können. Zu Verbrechen in Syrien, Irak und der Demokratischen Republik Kongo hat es bereits Prozesse in Deutschland gegeben.

Deutscher Mehrwert und nächste Schritte

Deutschland bewegt sich in keinem der drei Bereiche allein. Umso wichtiger ist eine klare Vorstellung davon, welchen Mehrwert deutsche Unterstützung im Vergleich zu nationalen und anderen internationalen Akteuren leisten kann, und wo die Bundesregierung ihre eigenen Prioritäten sieht. Hier unterscheiden sich die drei Strategien stark.

Die Strategie zur Vergangenheitsarbeit zeigt die größte Kohärenz. Sie identifiziert vier Bereiche für eine eigene Schwerpunktsetzung und ordnet ihr einzelne Maßnahmen unter. Die Bundesregierung will Vergangenheitsarbeit in eine „Präventionsagenda“ von politischen Reformen einbetten, Opfergruppen stärken und einbeziehen, Geschlechtergerechtigkeit in diesen Prozessen fördern und die spezifischen Erfahrungen Deutschlands beim Umgang mit der eigenen Erfahrung aus NS- und DDR-Unrecht nutzbar machen.

Im Bereich der Rechtsstaatsförderung erwähnt die Strategie, dass die Rechtsbindung von Verwaltungen im Vordergrund stehen soll. Allerdings wird dies nicht weiter erläutert oder als ordnendes Prinzip genutzt. Die SSR-Strategie kommt sogar ganz ohne Schwerpunktsetzung aus. Dies überrascht insofern, da sich die parlamentarische Kontrolle der Streitkräfte und das Prinzip der inneren Führung in der Bundeswehr als Erfahrungen anbieten würden.

Nach dieser konzeptionellen Ausarbeitung sollte der nächste Schritt darin bestehen, Aktionspläne zu jedem der drei Handlungsfelder aufzustellen. Denn noch wird kaum klar, wie die Dokumente die Arbeit der Bundesregierung in Zukunft tatsächlich verändern werden und wie sich die Ziele zum gesetzten Datum 2025 überprüfen lassen. Gesellschaftliche Transformationsprozesse sind stets von Unsicherheit und Rückschlägen gekennzeichnet, aber zumindest für die eigene Arbeit sollte die Bundesregierung messbare Indikatoren aufstellen. 

Die Bundesregierung sollte ihre Prioritäten klären, diese mit Mitteln unterlegen und ihr Personal weiterbilden und ausreichend ausstatten. Deutsche Auslandsvertretungen in fragilen Staaten verfügen oft über zu wenig politische Referentinnen und Referenten. Sie müssen aber in die Lage versetzt werden, die deutschen Stabilisierungsprojekte zu verfolgen, wie es die Strategien vorsehen. Die beteiligten Ressorts sollten weiterhin eng mit zivilgesellschaftlichen Akteuren zusammenarbeiten, die häufig seit Jahrzehnten in der Krisenprävention tätig sind. Über Indikatoren und Aktionspläne hinaus sollte der „gemeinsame Lernprozess“ weitergehen, wie bei der Jahrestagung des Beirats zivile Krisenprävention deutlich wurde.

Zudem muss die Bundesregierung auf ihre eigene Glaubwürdigkeit achten. Eine globale Handels-, Wirtschafts-, Klima- und Rüstungspolitik ist oft struktureller Konflikttreiber. Eine präventive Außenpolitik, die den Namen verdient, braucht nicht nur überprüfbare Strategien, sondern auch eine ganzheitliche Ausrichtung

Independent inquiry fails to answer important questions on the UN’s role in Myanmar

An independent inquiry into the UN system’s response to the mass violence against the Rohingya population in Myanmar found “systemic and structural failures”, echoing an earlier finding of a similar investigation on Sri Lanka. At the same time, the inquiry conducted by former Guatemalan diplomat Gert Rosenthal leaves important questions unexplored. Crucially, Rosenthal did not explore allegations that the UN Country Team in Myanmar was complicit in the regime’s discrimination against the Rohingya population. For the UN to learn from the past, it needs to have a more detailed record of the decisions taken.

This text first appeared on medium.com on 15 September 2019.

Learning lessons from past mistakes is important. That is true both on an individual level as well at the level of the United Nations. Rwanda, Srebrenica, Sri Lanka, Haiti, South Sudan: there have been many independent inquiries into the UN’s actions in a situation where serious human rights violations took place. They have spurred influential, albeit imperfect reform processes of the organization’s institutional architecture, processes and policies. Unfortunately, the latest such report, into the UN system’s response to the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar between 2010 and 2018, is too shallow and generic to allow for substantial learning to take place how the UN system could have used potential leverage to prevent the atrocities. It also fails to investigate allegations of the UN’s complicity in the systemic discrimination of the Rohingya population that are already part of the public record. 

The Rohingya people have suffered from systemic discrimination by the Myanmar government for decades. In a Buddhist-dominated country, the government and many Buddhist citizens regard the Rohingya as foreign, rejecting even their name and calling them “Bengali”, i.e. belonging to neighboring Bangladesh. The Rohingya have lacked citizenship and associated rights since the 1982 nationality law. Amid the democratic reform process in Myanmar since 2012, discrimination against the Rohingya has increased, including restrictions on their freedom of movement. In reaction to an attack on police stations by a Rohingya armed group in August 2017, the Myanmar security forces engaged in indiscriminate violence against the civilian population, killing thousands and driving around 700,000 people across the border into Bangladesh. Former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein described these attacks as “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”. A fact-finding mission recommended that senior military commanders should be investigated for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. It found six indicators of “genocidal intent”, including in its most recent report evidence of sexual violence by the security forces, with hundreds of women and girls gang-raped.

Existing allegations: timidity or even complicity?

For several years, there have been serious allegations of misconduct by the UN Country Team based in Myanmar and senior UN officials elsewhere, including through leaked internal reports, statements by former employees, and investigative reporting. These allegations are complex, but essentially fall into either of two main points. The first concerns a lack of coherence both within the UN presence in Myanmar and among the UN leadership in New York. Even though the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and his deputy Jan Eliasson had spearheaded a reform to improve the UN system’s processes and internal mechanisms in the wake of the Sri Lanka inquiry, these reforms were not effective in Myanmar. Specifically, public reports charged that the Resident Coordinator, the highest UN official in the country, excluded critical voices from meetings and suppressed a report warning of a deterioration of the situation in early 2017. Mirroring differences between public advocacy and quiet dialogue at the country level, senior UN officials disagreed on the organization’s overall approach, with Eliasson and al-Hussein on one side, and the head of the UN Development Programme, Helen Clark, and Vijay Nambiar, special advisor for Myanmar, on the other side. Limited public or private criticism by the UN after an earlier massacre, “proved to the Myanmar government that it could manipulate the U.N.’s self-inflicted paralysis in Rakhine”, a UN official told the journalist Column Lynch. In other words, the activists allege that contradictory messages from different parts of the UN system and relative muteness on major human rights issues signaled to Myanmar’s security forces that it could get away with them.

The second point that those reports make goes even further. They allege that the UN Country Team was complicit in the discriminatory policies of the Myanmar government towards the Rohingya people. The UN and its international partners sustained displaced Rohingyas in internment camps, which the government did not allow them to leave, and collaborated with the government in the so-called Rakhine Action Plan. The plan, supposedly aimed at improving the humanitarian situation, included the registration of Rohingya as “Bengalis”, thus erasing their identity. Liam Mahony, an international consultant, spoke with representatives of the humanitarian community in Myanmar and observed in a critical report in 2015: “The State benefits not only from having the cost of minimally sustaining the population carried by others, it also gets a legitimacy benefit from having all these international organizations present (and better yet, present and quiet.)”

Explaining “systemic failure”

In his report, Gert Rosenthal largely confirms the first allegation, and ignores the second one. He identifies the tension between quiet diplomacy and public advocacy as the core challenge for the UN in dealing with the situation in Rakhine state, and “systemic and structural failures” in resolving them. In a chapter of just six pages, Rosenthal describes five reasons for these failures: lack of support from member states; the absence of a common strategy by the UN leadership; too many points of coordination; a dysfunctional country team led by a Resident Coordinator out of her depth but unable to receive more expert support from headquarters because of government opposition; and competing lines of reporting from the field, muddling information and analysis available in New York. Because the problems were systemic, no single entity or individual should be singled out, he concludes, pointing to the “shared responsibility on the part of all parties involved”.

The report’s observations are pertinent, and in mentioning the lack of executive decision-making by the Secretary-General go beyond the findings of the Sri Lanka inquiry that was published in 2012. As a new generation of UN Country Teams has started to deploy since the start of the year, extracting lessons for their engagement would be important. Rosenthal acknowledges that pushing for change in the government of Myanmar’s behavior towards the Rohingya while simultaneously working with it on humanitarian and development issues as well as supporting the democratic transition process was “a difficult balancing act”.

Diplomacy on human rights issues often involves such balancing acts for the UN. The restrictions present in Myanmar – a repressive government, divided member states, and lack of dedicated UN capacities on political and human rights issues – were not unheard of. The Resident Coordinator was in a very difficult position to engage in advocacy, as Mahony had already concluded in 2015: humanitarian organizations were “expecting UNHCR and the Resident Coordinator to do it all for them.” Yet it is difficult to conclude from Rosenthal’s synoptic account which kind of advocacy and at what points in time could have been successful in dissuading the security forces from their attacks.

Lack of detail, counterfactuals and potential leverage

A detailed narrative investigating incidents where the UN was faced with a concrete incident and needed to make a choice between advocacy and diplomacy would have been helpful. Which information did which UN entity have, how was it handled within the system, and who used it in which form in any engagement with the government? In which ways did the actions of the government, member states and the UN entities interact to inform decision-making in the UN Country Team and at UN headquarters? For example, the journalist and Myanmar expert Francis Wade writes about the way in which an incident in the village of Du Chee Yar Tan had instilled greater caution in the UN’s advocacy. Based on initial reports of a massacre, the UN had raised the issue with the government authorities, only to be rebuked and find out later from further sources that the alleged incident was apparently not as serious as initially assumed.

Closer attention to such incidents would have been important. But Rosenthal had very limited capacity, having to work on its own without support staff or colleagues. He did not travel to Myanmar. Investigating inflection points would have helped to persuade the reader of his conclusions. It would have also allowed to point out more counterfactual decisions, or the consequences of the choices that were made for the calculus of the security forces and for how events unfolded on the ground. The only benchmark that Rosenthal mentions is an observer mission in Rakhine state that could have monitored the actions of armed groups and the military. Such a mission could have investigated incidents such as the attacks on police stations in 2016 and 2017 that provided the excuse for the security services’ “clearance operations”. But, as he himself acknowledges, such a mission was impossible without the agreement of the government.

Lastly, Rosenthal hardly enquires into the potential leverage of the UN system, or any other actor to change the government’s behavior. He briefly mentions China, India, Indonesia and ASEAN as “privileged” partners of the UN, but does not discuss any specific efforts UN officials made to convince them to put pressure on the government, including for the failed upgrade of the UN presence in the country. Nor does he inquire whether the US gave in too quickly to Chinese opposition to dealing with Myanmar in the UN Security Council earlier on. Rosenthal observes that even when Guterres wrote a stern letter to the Security Council in early September 2017 after the start of the ethnic cleansing campaign, it did not lead the council “to respond in either a forceful or a timely manner.”

In contrast, Mahony’s 2015 assessment talks of the “uniquely privileged position” of the UN and member states in relation to a government that desperately sought international legitimacy for its democratic reform process and the “huge financial rewards that this new leadership brings”. It would have been essential to learn if UN actors felt the same and in what ways they used such leverage.

Why accountability matters

The shortcomings of such an internal review matter. Not only does the UN owe greater accountability to the Rohingya victims of the systemic discrimination, forced displacement, and indiscriminate killings, but also to its own staff, and to the wider public. The Secretary General’s Office is currently leading a follow-up process to the Rosenthal report. Its first task will need to be to expand on Rosenthal’s very short recommendations.

Even though Rosenthal does not say so explicitly, some commentators have drawn the conclusion that his report “assigns collective responsibility for the atrocities committed during the 2017 Rohingya crisis to both the UN civil service and UN member states.“ That is misleading – there is nothing in the report to suggest how a more coherent UN system supported by member states could have prevented the atrocities. Maybe more pressure could have emboldened the civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi to try and stand up to the military, or earlier and more widespread targeted sanctions could have influenced the military leadership. Without a more thorough analysis of international engagement, we can only guess.

In the meantime, the UN’s reputation further deteriorates, potentially undermining its work elsewhere as well as the reform of the country team system. No official, diplomat, or government representative has been held accountable for a responsibility that is shared collectively. More than one million Rohingya refugees continue to live in horrid conditions in Bangladeshi refugee camps.

Ausdauernde, aber sanfte Diplomatie nötig

In vielen Staaten Afrikas weht gerade ein Wind der Veränderung. Deutschland sollte die Übergangsprozesse unterstützen.

Dieser Text erschien am 19. August 2019 als Gastbeitrag in der Frankfurter Rundschau.

Es weht ein neuer Wind in den Regierungsgebäuden wichtiger afrikanischer Länder. Die Einigung auf eine Übergangsregierung im Sudan Anfang Juli ist nur das jüngste Beispiel für Regierungswechsel in scheinbar erstarrten Regimen. Auch Äthiopien, Algerien, Kongo, Angola und Simbabwe erleben politischen Wandel in den letzten Jahren. Diese Prozesse haben regionale Ausstrahlungswirkung, eint jedoch auch eine anhaltende Rolle von Herrschaftseliten, eine große Rolle des Sicherheitsapparats und der fragile Charakter der Veränderungen. Internationale Diplomatie muss einen Weg finden, sowohl die erneute Konsolidierung autoritärer Herrschaft als auch Bürgerkrieg und Massengewalt zu verhindern. Dazu sollte die Bundesregierung die Kräfte des friedlichen Wandels umsichtig unterstützen.

Die Regierungswechsel waren stets auch Versuche der herrschenden Elite, angesichts wachsender Demonstrationen und Unzufriedenheit im Land die Proteste zu besänftigen. Saubere Schnitte mit der Vergangenheit waren es nicht. Angesichts der engen Verbindung von wirtschaftlichen und politischen Interessen war dies keine Überraschung: es gibt viel zu verlieren für all diejenigen, die von den bisherigen Verhältnissen profitiert haben.

Gleichzeitig ist die Beteiligung existierender Machteliten auch eine Chance für den Übergangsprozess. Sie erlaubt mögliche Friedensstörer zumindest anfangs einzubinden. Wenn Reformfiguren dem Status Quo entspringen, können sie auf existierende Netzwerke zur Umsetzung ihrer Ideen zurückgreifen. Premierminister Abyi Ahmed hat beispielsweise angefangen, weitgehende demokratische Reformen in Äthiopien umzusetzen. Medien- und Versammlungsfreiheit sind gewachsen, tausende politische Gefangen wurden frei gelassen, und die Privatisierung staatlicher Monopole hat begonnen. Letztes Jahr schloss Äthiopien Frieden mit Eritrea und eröffnete damit die Hoffnung, dass auch dort die Jahrzehnte der Isolation und Militarisierung zu Ende gehen könnten.

Doch die schnellen Reformen bringen auch die inneren Spannungen Äthiopiens zu Tage. 2018 wurden im Land fast drei Millionen Menschen durch gewaltsame Auseinandersetzungen vertrieben; so viele wie in keinem anderen Land. Ende Juni versuchten staatliche Sicherheitskräfte, die Regierung zu stürzen und töteten dabei unter anderem den Armeechef. Währenddessen drohen die Übergänge in Algerien und Simbabwe in alte Muster zurückzufallen, bevor sie richtig begonnen haben.

Für Deutschland und Europa sind diese Entwicklungen von großer Bedeutung. Äthiopien und die Demokratische Republik Kongo gehören zu den größten Empfängerländern von deutscher Entwicklungszusammenarbeit in Afrika. Äthiopien und Algerien haben sich in den vergangenen Jahren als wichtige Friedensvermittler hervorgetan, im Sudan und Südsudan bzw. in Mali. Wenn die Bundesregierung die Ziele der afrikapolitischen Leitlinien, welche sie dieses Jahr neu fasste, umsetzen will, müssen diese Übergangsprozesse friedlich verlaufen und nachhaltig inklusive Herrschaft garantieren.

Die Diplomatie steht jedoch vor schwierigen Herausforderungen. Zwei andere Übergangsprozesse der letzten Jahre zeigen, wie internationaler Einfluss nicht enden sollte: in Ägypten konnte sich das Militär mit Präsident al-Sisi an der Spitze behaupten, ohne dass es langfristige Einbußen der US-Militärhilfe hinnehmen musste. In Libyen zerfiel der Staat nach der international forcierten Entmachtung Gaddafis im Streit bewaffneter Gruppen.

Deutsche Diplomatie sollte also auf glaubwürdige Reformschritte drängen und die Erwartungen auch an konstruktive Regierungen wie die von Abyi Ahmed in Äthiopien nicht aus falscher Rücksichtnahme senken. Gewaltakte wie das Massaker der friedlichen Demonstranten am 3. Juni in Khartum müssen aufgeklärt werden. Die Bundesregierung sollte innerhalb der Staaten die Akteure unterstützen, die für einen gesellschaftlichen Wandel stehen. Entsprechend sollten deutsche Diplomaten bei ihren Vermittlungsbemühungen im Sudan und anderswo auch zivilgesellschaftliche Bewegungen wie die Sudanese Professionals Association involvieren. Gleichzeitig sollten sie weiterhin regionale Prozesse wie die Mediation der Afrikanischen Union im Sudan unterstützen. Um ein glaubwürdiges Auftreten zu ermöglichen, muss sich die Regierung auch noch stärker um einen kohärenten Ansatz zwischen den Ressorts und mit den europäischen Partnern bemühen.

Die Bevölkerungen im Sudan, Algerien und anderen Ländern haben gezeigt, dass sie nicht länger auf langfristige Reformversprechen warten wollen. Pusten wir Wind in ihre Segel.

A Question of Leadership: Lessons from the UN’s Actions in Myanmar

The UN’s inquiry into its own actions in Myanmar since 2012 draws significant parallels with a similar exercise that focused on the UN’s role during the end of the war in Sri Lanka. Once again, the UN found itself in a situation where a government was committing atrocities, but the UN showed an incoherent, ineffective response. Without clear leadership adjudicating differences among key stakeholders in the UN system, the principled engagement to which Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had committed himself remained elusive.

This text first appeared on Strife Blog hosted at the Department of War Studies, King’s College London.

Engaging with severe human rights violations requires courage and coherence, setting clear principles and the readiness to stand by them if they are under pressure. An independent inquiry on the UN’s action during the Rakhine crisis in Myanmar, which came out in June, observed that the international organisation showed a “systemic failure” in dealing with the state’s repression of the Rohingya people between 2010 and 2018. Choosing his words carefully, its author, the former Guatemalan foreign minister Gert Rosenthal, echoed a similar exercise on the UN’s behaviour during the end of the war in Sri Lanka in 2008/09. Importantly, the UN system’s shortcomings were not a simple matter of failing to speak out, but of incoherence across the system, exacerbated by the lack of executive decision-making in Myanmar and at headquarters level. The lack of leadership by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, despite his strong rhetorical commitment to human rights and atrocity prevention, deserves further attention.

From the UN’s perspective, the situation in Sri Lanka and Myanmar showed uncanny parallels, despite all objective differences. In Sri Lanka, the armed forces pursued a relentless final assault on the Tamil Tigers’ last hold-outs in Sri Lanka in 2008-2009. In Myanmar, the security forces attacked Rohingya civilians repeatedly, culminating in full-scale ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya population in 2017. In both countries, governments were the major perpetrators of violence, the presence of armed groups notwithstanding. Both governments were opposed to a strong human rights presence by the UN, and frustrated efforts by the UN Secretariat to increase its relevant capacity.

Myanmar and Sri Lanka, though both at the time host to significant armed violence, had successfully objected to any political or peacekeeping presence. The Resident Coordinators (RC), the head of the UN Country Team, in both countries had been chosen at a time of relative peace and with a strong development focus, not a profile in international humanitarian and human rights law. There were even some personal overlaps: Vijay Nambiar, the special advisor on Myanmar between 2012 and 2016, had been one of the most important UN officials during the Sri Lanka crisis, as Ban’s chef de cabinet. Lastly, there were strong geopolitical divisions that manifested themselves in a reluctance of the UN Security Council to discuss the situation as an official agenda item. In short, they were among the most difficult situations for the UN to work in.

The central challenge, as identified by Rosenthal, is a familiar and highly pertinent one: “how the United Nations can maintain some type of constructive engagement with individual member states where human rights abuses are systematically taking place, while at the same time pressing for those states to uphold their international commitments.” In other words, the UN needs to find an adequate mix of “quiet diplomacy” and “outspoken advocacy”, approaches that are associated with different parts of the UN system. For such a mix, the UN needs an inclusive organisational structure to produce a coherent policy, communicated across the system, owned by the leadership, and based on current, on-the-ground information and analysis.

The failure in Myanmar, according to Rosenthal, was that none of those prerequisites were present. Both at country and at HQ level, there were stark differences of opinion regarding the most adequate modus operandi. These manifested themselves in an increasingly polarised  working environment, as a function of the high stakes involved in the crisis in Rakhine state. Both sides of the argument thought that the other approach was not only wrong-headed, but potentially dangerous and counterproductive to de-escalate the violence and reduce discrimination. The emotionally charged atmosphere explains the reports about critical individuals being excluded from key meetings by Renata Lok Dessalien. The UN also had difficulty accessing the most volatile areas of Rakhine state and providing independent monitoring after alleged incidents.

Perhaps most importantly, there was a lack of strategic leadership, not just at the country level, but also at the highest level of the UN system. Differences between Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson, who pressed for advocacy, and Special Envoy Vijay Nambiar and UNDP Administrator Helen Clark, who stressed quiet diplomacy and development efforts, respectively, were never resolved by Secretary-General Ban. Rosenthal writes, “even at the highest level of the Organization there was no common strategy.”

These shortcomings are particularly salient because Ban and Eliasson had vowed to turn a page after the damning findings of the Sri Lanka inquiry. They launched the “Human Rights up Front” initiative in late 2013 with the aim to improve coordination, information management, engagement with member states, and the UN’s organisational  culture. One of the new mechanisms established as part of the initiative was the so-called Senior Action Group (SAG). The SAG brought together the system’s most important parts at the top leadership level, including the UNDP Administrator, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, and other high-level officials. It was chaired by Deputy Secretary General Eliasson.

In the SAG’s discussion of the crisis in Rakhine state, Helen Clark, then UNDP administrator, protected UNDP and her RC, insisting that investing in development would also benefit the Rohingya, which should not be jeopardised  by an overly focus on human rights advocacy. Allegations of specific incidents required more investigation, she often insisted. According to a UN official familiar with these discussions that I interviewed, “any time there was a contentious issue, a dilemma between quiet diplomacy, public diplomacy and so on, the differences were simply discussed, and no executive decision was taken.”

While the UNDP administrator is appointed by the Secretary General, he or she also reports to the UNDP Executive Board. At the time, Clark had the final say on appointing or replacing RCs. The UN official that I interviewed described her behaviour as “territorial.” In any case, Ban could have insisted on a common position on the Rakhine crisis, not the least since Helen Clark had officially signed up to Human Rights up Front. Eliasson, who knew the destitute situation of the Rohingya from his time as Emergency Relief Coordinator in the early 1990s, had pressed for the replacement of the RC as early as 2015. Still, Ban did not overrule Clark nor did he “arbitrate a common stance between these two competing perspectives,” as Rosenthal writes.

The lack of leadership was highly problematic: the whole purpose of such high-level meetings as the SAG was to deal with questions that UN officials at the country level had not been able to agree on, and to create a common analysis and joint ownership of decisions. The different perspectives are ingrained in the distinct mandates and ways of working of the parts of the UN system; it falls to the collective leadership of the UN system to resolve tensions arising from the operational work. “Systemic failure” sounds like the reasons for incoherence lie mainly in structural differences. While these are important, ultimately responsibility for ensuring that the whole UN system works falls to its leadership, including the Secretary General and member states.

Clearly, the UN system is subject to the same cleavages and divisions that characterise  the international system as a whole. As Renata Lok Dessalien herself points out in a paper written after her assignment in Myanmar, conceptual differences regarding the meaning and interpretation of basic principles are ingrained in the UN Charter, for example between the promotion of human rights and the respect for national sovereignty. No internal UN reform such as Human Rights up Front can do away with those tensions, or abolish geopolitical differences. What it can do, and it has done with some mixed success, is change the way the organisation works, improving communication, analysis and decision-making procedures.

If the UN can hope to influence events in situations like those in Rakhine state in Myanmar at all, a coherent and coordinated policy across the whole system is a prerequisite. Otherwise both governments and critical member states are always able to play different parts of the system against each other, muting their respective effectiveness.

Luckily and despite significant opposition from key member states, the UN has started to improve its coherence in dealing with the crisis in Myanmar. Shortly after he came into office, Secretary General António Guterres appointed a permanent monitoring group within the UN, and prioritised strategic dialogue with Myanmar’s government, including State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi. He also championed a reform of the RC system. When Myanmar’s armed forces began their military offensive that included ethnic cleansing in Rakhine state in August 2017, Guterres resorted to public diplomacy. In a rare step, he wrote to the UN Security Council, urging its members to take action. Also in 2017, Renata Lok Dessalien finished her position as RC in Myanmar. Her successor, the Norwegian Knut Ostby, emphasized communication and principled engagement, for example threatening to reduce all but essential aid to IDP camps in Rakhine state if the government did not improve the Rohingyas’ freedom of movement. At the same time, renewed fighting between the ethnic Rakhine Arakan armed group and the government as well as continued denial of citizenship have left around a million Rohingya refugees stranded in refugee camps in neighbouring Bangladesh.

UN diplomacy consists of difficult balancing acts, in particular in dealing with unrepentant governments committing atrocities against their own population. Faced with an increasing emphasis of state sovereignty, including by the United States, Guterres has, at times, appeared to waver on human rights. If his prevention agenda is to succeed, he needs to mobilise all pillars of the UN to support each other, not just in Myanmar.

Preventive Diplomacy: Invest in the Skills of Frontline Diplomats

In conflict-prone countries, diplomats must employ a special skill-set that allows them to escape from biased conventional wisdoms and balance the personal and the professional in negotiations. Ministries and international organizations should foster mechanisms such as structured spaces for reflection and frequent exchange with fellow diplomats from relevant missions in the region.

This post summarizing some key insights from my PhD thesis was first published on the PeaceLab Blog on 4 July 2019.

European diplomats visiting Abyei, May 2019. Source: https://twitter.com/SWalshEU/media.

Conflict prevention is an important objective for international organizations as well as in many countries’ foreign policies. However, engaging in state-society conflicts presents a fundamental challenge for diplomats and United Nations (UN) officials posted in “at risk” countries – those on the precipice of violence. State-society conflicts are defined as those relating to the distribution of power between and within societal groups as well as their respective access to state resources; in other words, nothing could be more political. Diplomats, however, are supposed to refrain – by law and convention – from meddling in another country’s domestic affairs. At the same time, for a reform process to be credible and sustainable, it ultimately needs to be driven by local actors – not outsiders. In short: diplomats are caught in a conundrum of seemingly contradictory conventions and political objectives.

So, how do frontline diplomatic actors handle this fundamental challenge on a practical level? This question was central to my PhD research, in which I found that such situations require careful balancing acts. Engaging in state-society conflicts is always marred by trade-offs, e.g. between inclusion and exclusion or legitimacy and effectiveness. There is hardly ever a perfect combination of international objectives. It often falls to frontline diplomats posted in countries experiencing such conflicts to balance the trade-offs presented by those objectives. Trying to influence state-society relations also involves balancing the level of coerciveness and the level of intrusion in diplomatic interventions. Fostering this duality in a competent manner requires closer attention to the ways in which frontline diplomats make sense of conflicts, interact with national stakeholders, and coordinate with their diplomatic peers.

This analysis is based on an empirical analysis of diplomacy in South Sudan since independence as well as in post-war Sri Lanka, where I interrogated the views and everyday practices of frontline diplomats. In total, I conducted 165 semi-structured interviews with diplomats, UN officials, civil society representatives, policymakers, and experts.

Prevention needs to balance actors and structures

As the American academic Barnett Rubin poignantly observed in 2002, “all prevention is political”: Constraining the repertoire of elite actions is inherently disruptive. Preventive action rests on a forward-looking, proactive and conflict-sensitive attitude, requiring courage and close interaction with people in the target society. International influence, though, is heavily circumscribed, and may be subject to geopolitical interests, regional rivalries, economic priorities, and divergent political preferences of local elites. Prevention is also disruptive within bureaucratic organizations, as it often entails questioning established relationships and accepted analyses in addition to imagining scenarios and new ways of engaging. In short: Prevention is not a separate activity, but rather a normative objective that affects diplomatic interactions across conflict stages.

Politics in countries at risk of armed conflict is often highly personal and informal. A thorough understanding of the nature of elite bargains by national stakeholders must incorporate both psychological factors and an analysis of a conflict’s political economy. Leaders in state-society conflicts may be geared more towards immediate political survival than reputational concerns, which has consequences for preventive diplomacy. Standard diplomatic appeals to leaders’ legacy or long-term interests may thus be ineffective. Diplomats need to balance the respective roles of structures and actors operating within them. In my research, I discuss how they do so across three levels of the diplomatic process at the country level: Knowledge production, political engagement, and international coordination.

Frontline diplomats are exposed to cognitive short cuts

When analyzing the politics of their host countries, frontline diplomats are exposed to cognitive shortcuts. Knowledge production involves balancing countervailing interpretations. Organizational rules and professional conventions dispose frontline diplomats towards a bias favoring the legitimacy held by formal state institutions. Even beyond the state, external actors easily assume a strong link between national stakeholders and local sources of power, and patron-client relations are often difficult to identify for outsiders. Diplomats need to reconcile structural forces such as ethnicity, religion, economic inequality, and ideology with the agency of their local interlocutors: Is their behavior an aberration or an expression of the governing political economy? Diplomats with long-term expertise are often more adept at recognizing such structural forces – but may also fail to update their beliefs and perceptions with changing elite incentives. This was the case following the independence of South Sudan in 2011, when many long-term observers struggled to recognize how the creation of the state had exacerbated internal tensions in the ruling elite. Such changes can be difficult to identify in bureaucratic systems that talk to each other mainly in writing, and that value conformity over questioning an internal consensus.

Diplomatic engagement with national stakeholders is often most effective when it is based on dialogue and clear principles. Mediating the intra-party dispute in South Sudan before the start of the war, a seasoned diplomat insisted, was essential – but it was absolutely integral to ensure transparency and avoid even the impression of favoring one contestant over the other. When domestic leaders find themselves in a hole, external actors need to hand them a ladder to climb out rather than a shovel to dig deeper. If nationalist leaders insulate themselves, working through interlocutors can help to create space for constructive dialogue. At the same time, the risk of constructive engagement is abuse and impunity that normalizes extra-legal methods in political competition. Following the protocol of state-to-state relations is thereby no longer neutral, but may end up legitimizing the concentration of power in a central government. Informal politics often require personal engagement, using institutional networks and individual experience to gain access to key people and facts. When diplomats engage on a personal level, they may increase their risk of being dragged into domestic political fights.

Diplomatic coordination can provide the political cover for preventive diplomacy and reduce the exposure of informal engagement. This often poses a dilemma for principled engagement: Those international actors with the most influence may not be those with the most transformative approach. The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD)-led mediation in South Sudan was a prime example of this phenomenon, with its member states deeply divided and opposed to freezing the assets of certain South Sudanese elites. At the same time, international pressure is more effective when there exists a broad consensus. Shifting geopolitical power structures mean that alternative sources of legitimacy are readily available, as China’s role in Sri Lanka and its close support for former President Mahinda Rajapaksa demonstrates. International organizations such as a UN Country Team may convene a range of diplomats, and maintain a long-term knowledge base of international engagement – if diplomats regularly share and reflect upon their experiences.

Promoting skills to balance trade-offs and creating spaces for reflection

As my research project demonstrates, the individuals engaged in preventive diplomacy matter. Governments and the UN, which have both committed themselves to conflict prevention, should promote mechanisms, policies, and skill-sets that foster diplomats’ ability to make judgements about balancing trade-offs, weighing countervailing interpretations, savvy engagement, and efficient coordination.

Bureaucratic organizations should establish mechanisms to regularly reflect on the disruptive nature of threats and preventive possibilities. Escaping conventional wisdom requires structured spaces for reflection within missions and across government and international organizations. Too often, missions and regional desks are too thinly stretched to be able to conduct structured conflict analyses regularly. External expertise, regular facilitation, and dedicated support mechanisms from capital/HQ can help overcome the limited capacity of missions in at-risk countries.

In situations with strong regional dimensions such as South Sudan, diplomats from all relevant missions in the region should hold frequent videoconferences and meet for internal workshops. Bureaucracies would do well to revamp human resources practices to ensure that diplomats with appropriate experience and skills are deployed where they are needed. At least for heads of missions, experience in a similar context and some basic country training should be compulsory. Top policymakers must give more weight to principled engagement in at-risk countries and foster an organizational culture that encourages individual responsibility, accepts risks, and allows dissent.

Frontline diplomats, in turn, can benefit from maintaining a detailed overview of national stakeholders, including possible agents of change and spoilers. They need to be prepared to combine personal and professional interactions, based on consistency, integrity, and transparency. For them, what matters is a clear-eyed awareness of risks and benefits, and the readiness to seize opportunities where they arise.

Don’t forget the role of the state in Sri Lanka’s violence

Attacks on minorities in Sri Lanka need to be seen in the context of an ethnocratic state and a climate of impunity for the incitement and mobilisation of mob violence.

The following appeared as a letter to the editor in Süddeutsche Zeitung on 5 June 2019, reacting to an article about incidents of anti-Muslim violence in the North-Western Province of Sri Lanka that had originally been published on 14 May 2019. The translation is mine. 

A broken window in Gintota (near Galle in the South), where a mob attacked Muslim houses and mosques in November 2017.

As you report, after the terrorist attacks on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka, there were riots against Muslims. It is important not to disregard the role of the state and of impunity in that regard. In contrast to your wording, there weren’t “clashes between Christians and Muslims” recently. More to the point, according to available reports, it was racist violence. In the past years, there have repeatedly been such acts of mob violence, including in Aluthgama in 2014, in Gintota in 2017, and in Ampara and Digana in 2018. Frequently these are violent acts that are organised and incited by radical Singhalese-Buddhist organisations . They use busses to carry groups of perpetrators to a location, where those people systematically attack Muslim shops, houses, and mosques. Sri Lankan security forces intervene only belatedly. Once arrested, many perpetrators are being released after protests.

Recently, the police arrested Amit Weerasinghe  from the organisation Mahason Balakaya. Weerasinghe had already been arrested as one of those inciting the riots in March 2018, but during the constitutional crisis last autumn, he was released. Speaking about religious “clashes” between two communities obscures the one-sidedness and organisation of this violence. It is not spontaneous, but originates in a climate of impunity, structural discrimination, and negligence of security tasks by the authorities.

Since I submitted this letter, things have only got worse. President Maithripala Sirisena pardoned Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thero, a Buddhist monk and the General Secretary of Bodu Bala Sena, on 23 May 2019.  Bodu Bala Sena, or BBS, is a radical Buddhist organisation, that has been implicated in many of the violent incidents mentioned above, including Gnanasara personally. In 2014, after initial tensions in the area, BBS held a rally in Aluthgama, where Gnanasara gave a speech threatening “If one Muslim lays a hand at a Singhalese, that will be the end of all of them.” During the violence, at least four people were killed, and many houses damaged. In 2016, he warned of “another Aluthgama”. In March 2018, Gnanasara was again at the scene just before mobs descended on the central towns of Digana and Teldeniya, although BBS claimed he wanted to clam things down. Gnanasara has a close partnership with Wirathu, a radical Buddhist monk inciting hatred in Myanmar.

For none of those events did Gnanasara, or BBS, face judicial consequences. Only in June 2018, Gnanasara was sentenced to six years in jail for contempt of court, after he had interrupted a hearing of a prominent case of an allegedly disappeared cartoonist, and intimitated the cartoonist’s wife, Sandya Eknaligoda. After Gnanasara was released, the president met him in person.

On 31 May, another Buddhist monk, Athuraliye Rathana Thero, began a fast unto death at Sri Lanka’s most sacred Buddhist temple in Kandy, to pressure a Muslim minister and two Muslim governors to resign from their positions, following his allegations about their possible links to the perpetrators of the Easter Sunday attacks. On 3 June, Gnanasara issued a deadline for their resignations. Shortly thereafter, the governors and all 9 Muslim MPs involved in the government, i.e. also those no involved in any allegations, resigned from their positions. More and more, events on the street dominate politics in Sri Lanka.